Value of Integrated Geoscience – 2021 GeoConvention panel

An interview with John Duhault and Julia McElgunn

Coordinated by: David Gray
John Duhault and Julia McElgunn

This month’s interview is a little different – discussing the organizing of the VIG special session in the 2021 GeoConvention.

David Gray (DG) had the honour of interviewing John Duhault (JD) and Julia McElgunn (JM), who put together the Value of Integrated Geoscience panel for the 2021 GeoConvention. This was an excellent session where we got to hear from some of the most innovative geoscientists in our community. The panelists were:

“Conventional Energy” Panelists

  • Colin Frostad: VP Exploration; Tourmaline Oil and Gas
  • Denise Yee: SVP Head of Subsurface Modelling and Analysis; Enervus
  • Shelley Leggitt: Past VP Exploration; Velvet Exploration

“Unconventional Energy” Panelists

  • Amanda Hall: CEO; Summit Nanotech
  • Yuliana Proenza: Exploration Geologist; Barkley Group Geothermal
  • Kirsten Marcia: President and CEO; Deep Earth Energy

We first asked Julia and John to tell us a little about themselves.

JM – Thank you, David. I’m a geologist working for Vermillion – one of the fortunate employed geologists. I finished my undergrad and grad studies at U of C. I’ve worked at Devon, Compton, and Vermillion, and have mostly been Alberta-based with a short interval in the Permian Basin in Texas. I’ve worked almost every part of the STACK, except for the most recent Cretaceous. I started my career mapping the Devonian, and then slowly went up to the Mississippian, then Jurassic, then Cretaceous, and back down to Jurassic.

DG – You’re working your way up through the geological section there for a while.

JM – Yes, it seems I started at the bottom, then went up, and I’m coming back down now.

JD – I’m a 42-year experienced geoscientist specializing in geophysical interpretation, and I have been involved in a lot of geological interpretations as well and completions geophysics mainly in western Canada. I currently run a consulting practice called Starbird Enterprises.

I am currently teaching courses that show how to demonstrate the business value of geoscience for engineering and energy transition. This is an important area that geophysicists need to be more aware of in the current business environment, especially in shale development, and now also in the energy transition.

DG – Links to upcoming courses are provided at the end of the article.

DG – What prompted you to do this Value of Integrated Geosciences (VIG) session for GeoConvention?

JD – We did one in 2019 which was widely received and was one of the most attended sessions at the 2019 GeoConvention. We got a lot of support from people who attended. They felt there was a lot of value-added information given at the session. I thought we had some very good speakers when we had it live in 2019, so let’s try to do it again in 2021. In 2019, Danielle Smith had done an excellent job moderating it and was able to bring more in-depth questions to the panelists. I would probably have hesitated to dive into some of the things that she did. She was very perceptive at getting additional content from the panelists. This is why I suggested that we bring her back for the 2021 VIG session.

The whole purpose of these VIG Panel sessions was to show where there is value in the geosciences. The original concept came out of the CSEG’s VIG (Value of Integrated Geophysics) committee and I respun it to be the Value of Integrated Geosciences. And then also VIG for “Very Important Geoscientists”, also adds another spin. I strongly believe that we’re not necessarily just scientists in what we do for a living. Science is our tool. We are trying to add value to the businesses or clients that we work for, and I wanted to continue that theme in these panel discussions. That’s why usually the first question asked to the panelists was, “Where do you see the value of geosciences in your company?”.

JM – I co-chaired last year and I thought it was a good experience to be part of organizing a session of quality talks for GeoConvention. When I was looking at the list of potential sessions, there were a few options, and the one titled Value of Integrated Geoscience stood out because it’s such an important topic right now with the way our economy has been. I wished to add value and provide some insight to others about the value of geoscience. I also wanted to make sure we could message that value a bit more clearly and help provide some hope for the geoscience community. I feel geoscientists might have felt a bit undervalued throughout the last several years.

DG – Thank you for that. You did another VIG session in 2019. What was different in the 2021 VIG session?

JD – The big difference was that in 2019 we tried to get more engineers to talk about the value of integrated geosciences. We had more company presidents and all but one panelist were male. That is just because of who was available or who decided to participate in 2019. Then, I was trying to get as many executives or VP Production and VP Exploration type people involved to really stress the importance of VIG and hoped to get more people to attend. It did help. I thought we got a good response. The neat thing was, after the final session in 2019, I took them out for some wine afterward, and the debrief was just as important and educational as some of the actual panel discussions. Unfortunately, there was no debrief this time because of Covid-19, and Danielle had to run off to moderate another “Canada at the Crossroads” session. She had a hard stop at 4:35.

DG – Why did you choose to have this focus on non-traditional geophysics?

JD – It came from the discussion I had with Julia. In 2019 I chaired the VIG session myself. When I was asked by Dustin if I wanted a co-chair, I said “Yeah, that would be great!” and Julia joined me in co-chairing. After a brief “get to know you” introduction, I tried to lay out that there were no wrong answers, and so we had some good discussions. We thought because of the energy transformation changes happening in town, we should include the other industries. I had a few people from 2019 that were invited but unable to make it that I wanted to re-invite for 2021 – for example, Denise Yee from Enervus in data analytics. Data analytics was an area I wanted to include because I thought that DA is a huge area of opportunity for geoscientists if they’re lucky enough to get a position in a data analytics company. Julia and I talked about geothermal, and she mentioned a couple of people. She proceeded to track them down to see if they’d be interested. That’s where the geothermal people came from. We also had been interested in bringing in a couple of other senior executives. It turns out that Julia had a connection to Colin Frostad, the VP Ex at Tourmaline and I had a connection to Amanda Hall from Summit Nanotech.

All the stuff we’re doing right now is part of Canada’s Energy Transformation. We’re calling it the energy transformation, rather than Energy Transition because we still have oil and gas in the mix. That was an important point that I didn’t want to lose. We wanted to show that there is value in having geoscientists in oil and gas and Colin gave some good pointers. His company, Tourmaline, has been successful because of geoscience. He mentioned that all of their acquisitions have been grounded by doing the geoscience work first, before they make the acquisitions.

DG – Julia, it sounds like you were the driving force behind non-traditional. Why did you want to have that focus?

JM – It comes back to the frustration about people not understanding the value of geoscience. The world would be very different if we didn’t understand the subsurface the way we do now, and we need to explore how to communicate this understanding better. As we look into the future, geoscience is going to be part of it.

Calgary, until recently, has been somewhat slow in how we think about developing energy beyond oil and gas, so I thought it would be good if we could highlight a different twist.

It’s amazing how creative geoscientists can be. At the end, when I looked at the panelists and who they are, the advice they brought, and their expertise, it was a well-rounded representation of what geoscientists bring in terms of value to society.

Geoscientists are very practiced at evaluating risk. It’s what we do every day. When we think about the wells we drill, drilling kilometers down and then kilometers laterally, with a drill bit that is less than 20cm wide, it’s amazing. We take a lot of risks. Non-traditional energy is expanding the limits of what we know. How geoscientists translated risk-taking into the development of energy is very revealing. Our ability to understand and take risks is one of a geoscientist’s greatest values. I was curious to see how this could be communicated.

DG – The other half of the session focused on oil industry geophysics. What are your most important takeaways from this VIG session?

JM – For me, it is how passionate geoscientists are about geoscience. I’ve heard of people regretting their choice of education in the geosciences. What was incredibly encouraging is the panelists truly believe in their geoscience background and in the honour of being a geoscientist. Another interesting takeaway was both Shelley and Colin talked about pairing junior and senior geoscientists to take advantage of senior experience combined with the technological skills of a junior.

JD – For me, it is the entrepreneurial nature of the panelists, in non-traditional energy, in particular. Yuliana had a good take on working with the entire project community, especially effectively working with indigenous groups to make projects work. I found it surprising that Tourmaline had put the community of geoscientists onto one floor, instead of into asset teams. Integration is important for a company to succeed and Tourmaline does their integration a little differently. Shelly Leggitt talked about how Velvet was successful because of the integration, especially the use of geophysical tools, into both geology and engineering. Velvet also had their geophysicists being very much involved in working with the completions engineers.

DG – I noticed that 5 / 6 of your panelists are female, including all the panelists in the energy transition half of the session. What does this indicate about diversity and womens’ influence in the energy business in Canada?

JM – Women are building connections and networks across the energy business. I’ve found women to support me, and at the same time women I can support back. Our panelists show us that if you give women a chance, they’re going to take it. They are going to thrive and push the limits. When we look at the women on the unconventional panel, they’re pushing past limitations and into unknown waters. They’re going out and doing things with new possibilities.

JD – The women on the panel all had a strong desire to give back, to help other geoscientists, whether they were male or female. They all have also taken some degree of risk to get their technical concepts supported and approved. We got some of the best panelists that we could, and it turned out that five of them happened to be women.

DG – You’ve been able to get Danielle Smith to moderate both these sessions. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a professional moderator?

JD – The advantage of having a professional moderator, like Danielle, is that she doesn’t get caught up in being super polite and extracts comments from the panelists more clearly. If you had an oil and gas employed moderator they may introduce a personal bias concerning a certain area, type of work, or a specific company. The advantage is that Danielle is a professional moderator who can bring in other ideas and other aspects of human nature that we might not be aware of. She also brings in other things that are outside my box and she is aware of other issues that are reflective of the topics we’re talking about.

DG – Would you like to see more GeoConvention sessions moderated by a professional?

JD – I think so. I think we had a dynamic session of interest. It was interesting to see what that moderator brings to that session, and sometimes it’s who you bring to do the moderation that helps. I’ve been involved in other sessions where the moderators were just fellow geoscientists and they’ve gone well, so it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. I would say if you try to get more executive types and e-suites types of opinions, or maybe even politicians, then having a non-geoscientist doing that moderating is beneficial. I’ve been in EAGE conferences where the moderators were a television or radio talk show host or somebody that edits their magazines. The moderators that I find effective are the ones that are quite comfortable around a microphone and quite comfortable moving stories forward and pushing speakers. So that’s why we thought that Danielle Smith would be a good moderator for this session.

DG – Julia and John, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and for putting on such an excellent session for us at GeoConvention. I’ve learned yet more interesting things from our conversation today.


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